Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Theater Review: A Doctor in Spite of Himself -- Yale Rep

Steven Epp and Justine Williams in A Doctor in Spite of Himself.
© 2011 Carol Rosegg
Bayes, Epp Return to Yale Rep; Prove Laughter is the Best Medicine
By Lauren Yarger
Steven Epp and Christopher Bayes are definitely the go-to guys if you want 21st-century audiences laughing at centuries-old plays. Epp stars and Bayes directs in the pair's adaptation of Moliere's A Doctor in Spite of Himself, co-produced at Yale Rep with Berkeley Repertory Theatre and they prove that laughter definitely is the best medicine.

Epp and Bayles collaborated last season on their critically acclaimed presentation of Truffaldino's The Servant of Two Masters at Yale Rep. Epp starred, Bayes directed. Both had worked with Tony-Award-winning Theatre de la Lune.

Epp plays woodcutter Sganarelle, forced to assume the identity of a doctor when his wife, Martine (Justine Williams), orchestrates a plan to get back at him for his bad hehavior (the two begin as punch-and-judy puppets in a small theater on stage and cleverly come to life and even step back into the small box with some clever staging by Matt Saunders). She convinces Valere (Jacob Ming Trent) and Lucas (Liam Craig, who also was in Two Masters) that her husband is a miracle-curing doctor who can provide a remedy for their master's daughter, Lucinde (Renata Friedman, who also serves as puppeteer).

Valere and Lucas, coerce Sganarelle to accompany them to the household of their master, Geronte (Allen Gilmore, also a Two Masters alumni), where Lucas' amply endowed wife, Jacqueline (Julie Brisman), serves as wet nurse and soon arouses the woodcutter's desire to "play doctor." He endeavors to cure Lucinde, who has been rendered mute after her father refuses his permission for her love, Leander (Chivas Michael), to court her.

Note: if you happen to have taken a swig of bottled water, you might ant to be sure to swallow it before Lucinde makes her appearance. She's one icky sick girl, frighteningly wild-haired and boot strapped. If you haven't swallowed, you'll spit the water out when you guffaw. Costume designer Kristin Fiebig provides the look as well as a number of bright, crazy-colored costumes that add to the production's humor.

The script, which starts with ushers dancing up and down the aisles, is full of zany modern references to movies, Broadway, TV commercials, pop music and politics. Moliere could only have dreamed that his comedy about the 17th -century medical practice would receive so man laughs in 2011. Briskman is a hoot and in one scene changes persona several times while recounting the progress of Lucinde's treatment. Even a siren passing by the theater got a laugh when Epp ad-libbed that the comedy police were coming to get them. Everyone in the audience smiles all the way through the brisk 90-minute presentation.

If the humor isn't enough to entertain, the cast sings up a storm as well. Aaron Halva composes and music directs a two-man band (Greg C. Powers; Robertson Witmer) who lend accompaniment and sound effects on a myriad of instruments just right of the action on stage. Trent adds some stylish and funny panache to some of the vocal arrangements.

It's tickle-your-funny-bone theater at it's best and it runs through Saturday at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel St, at York Street, New Haven. Tickets range from $28 to $88 and are available at the box office, at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. An audio transcribed performance is available 2 pm Saturday.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Theater Review: I'm Connecticut -- CT Rep

Joyce DeWitt, Harris Doran, Maggie Sulka, Jerry Adler.  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
A Show That Makes Us Feel Glad About Feeling Bad about Being From Connecticut
By Lauren Yarger
Believing that you are where you come from, Marc (Harris Doran) has a big problem. He's from Connecticut, the most boring state in the union. After all, we're nicknamed after a spice we don't grow here, most of the towns sound like the names of stodgy English butlers and the most exciting thing that's ever been said about Hartford is that it's the "insurance capital of the world." Gosh, we don't even have a state song.

So begins the very clever and highly entertaining I'm Connecticut from native son Mike Reiss in its world premiere CT Repertory production at UConn's Harriet S. Jorgensen Theater. Reiss, who has had success in Hollywood writing animated comedies such as "The Simpsons," "The Critic" and the "Ice Age" movies, returns to his roots for his first stage play.

Live action plays out against fantasy (ably directed by Paul Mullins) as Marc tries to succeed in the New York dating scene, while talking to the audience about his insecurities and sharing childhood memories of being one of the only Jews growing up in Simsbury, CT and about his loving, bickering grandparents (Jerry Adler, Joyce DeWitt). Michael Anania and Matt Iacozza's simple and easily-changed set with Allison McGrath and Greg Purnell's projection designs make the transitions seamless.

Meanwhile, more interesting states like Florida (Will Graziano), gay-friendly New Hampshire and Vermont (Ryan Marcone, Adam Scheemann) and Oklahoma (Coles Prince) strut their stuff (costumes design by Sara Ewing) and show why they all are more interesting than Connecticut.

Marc strikes out at "NY Minute" speed dating, where the manager (Darrell Hollens) encourages him to enhance his Connecticut-like personality. He seeks other advice from best friend Kyle (Michael John Improta) and Mark Twain (Harrison Greene), one of the few celebs from Connecticut, who when pressed, admits that despite living here in "a creepy monstrosity of a house that school children have been forced to visit for over a century" he didn't write much about the state and actually is buried in neighboring New York. (If you're not laughing at all that, you haven't lived in Connecticut).

In a twist, Marc falls for transplanted Georgia belle Diane (Maggie Sulka) who is the receptionist at the dating club. He embellishes a story about his grandfather's experiences as a Holocaust survivor to impress her as the two start dating. Things get serious when Diane brings Marc and his grandfather home to meet her mother (also played by an over animated DeWitt) and Marc has to deal with the consequences of trying to be something he's not.

While much of the humor is geared toward natives who will get the Connecticut and New England references, there also are enough solid laughs to keep the play from becoming an extended one-liner. Particularly funny is a Broadway-style ending (Ken Clark, music direction; Posy Knight, choreography) to give Connecticut it's moment in the spotlight.

Take a break from the holiday craziness and enjoy a few moments that will make you proud -- OK, at least uninterestingly contented --  to say I'm Connecticut. Performances are tonight at 8, tomorrow at 2 pm, Dec. 7 and 8 at 7:30 pm; and Dec. 9 and 10 at 8 pm, with an additional matinee at 2 pm on Saturday, Dec. 10. Ticket prices range from $6 to $29. Call 860-486-4226  or visit www.crt.uconn.edu.

Quick Hit Theater Review: Krapp's Last Tape -- Long Wharf

Brian Dennehy. Photo: T. Charles Erickson 
Krapp's Last Tape
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Jennifer Tarver

Krapp (Brian Dennehy) looks back over his life with the help of some tape recordings he made in the past, particularly one made on his 39th birthday, which launches some questions in the present like: has he missed his chance for happiness?; where has the time gone?: and is the banana-obsessed old man who delights in saying the word "spool" really the sum of what he was supposed to have become? Are any of us?

It's always a pleasure to see Dennehy on stage, and Krapp is no exception. Especially interesting was a computer glitch which messed up the recordings the evening I attended, causing Dennehy to adlib with the audience while the crew tried to figure out what to do. Probably as fascinating as a Dennehy performance is seeing him slowly sucked out of character into reality. Once the problem was fixed, he returned to the stage, rewound the scene again from before the compter glitch, and was fully back in character. He can make eating a banana really interesting theater.

Beckett isn't everyone's cup of tea. There are long gaps with no dialogue, even times when the actor is off stage for a while. It's a cerebral workout where many are tempted to ask, "What the heck?" rather than light entertainment, but the one-act is only 54 minutes, so give it a shot.

Krapp's Last Tape runs through Dec. 18 on Stage II at Long Wharf, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets at $70 are available at 203-787-4282 and www.longwharf.org.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Charlie Daniels Concert Rescheduled at Palace

Charlie Daniels Photo courtesy of Palace Theater
The Palace Theater’s presentation of The Charlie Daniels Band, which was postponed in October due to the untimely death of the band's keyboardist, Joel ‘Taz’ DiGregorio, has been rescheduled for Saturday, April 21, at 8 pm. Tickets for the new date can be purchased by phone at 203-346-2000, online at www.palacetheaterct.org  or in person at the box office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury.

DiGregorio unexpectedly died in a car crash three days before the band’s original Waterbury tour stop on Oct. 15 prompting the band to cancel several performances. Ticket holders who did not a request refund when the original Palace concert was cancelled will be able to use their same tickets for the new date.

Known for his fiddle playing and rebel anthems, Charlie Daniels is a true music icon. For 50 years, his exhilarating mixture of rock, country, bluegrass, blues, and gospel has propelled such hits as “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Long Haired Country Boy,” and “The South’s Gonna Do It,” among many others. His performance at the Palace Theater is sponsored by Naugatuck Savings Bank and WTNH/MyTV9.

In addition to the concert, the Palace’s Motorcycle Ride fundraiser and pre-show festival also cancelled out of respect last October, have been rescheduled for April 21. The Motorcycle Ride will take place from 1 to 4 pm, and the pre-show activities, which will feature live entertainment and various vendors, will begin at 4 pm.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Josh Borenstein is New Managing Director at Long Wharf

Josh Borenstein
Joshua Borenstein is the new managing director at Long Wharf Theatre.

“Josh was simply the best candidate. Because of our national search, his skills and qualification for the position became more and more clear to us on the Board of Trustees,” said Charles Kingsley, board chair. “He’s been serving as the interim managing director for the past six months and he’s done a wonderful job. Josh has the total confidence of the Board, the staff and Gordon (Edelstein, artistic director.

This will be Borenstein’s second stint at Long Wharf Theatre, serving in various capacities from 2003 to 2007, most recently as its Associate Managing Director.  In this capacity, he was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization, including finance, human resources, contract negotiations, labor relations, and facilities.  Josh had previously served as interim managing director in 2006. 

“I am honored and excited to be returning to Long Wharf,” said Borenstein.  “The work is outstanding, and it is an important cultural asset to both the region, as well as the national theatre community.  I am greatly looking forward to working with the Board, Gordon, and the staff on moving the organization forward in this rapidly changing time.”

Borenstein was recently a Project Manager with AMS in its Fairfield.  His AMS experience includes over 50 projects in strategic planning, cultural facility development, and market analysis.  Recently, Borenstein was the lead researcher for Culture Track 2011, a comprehensive national study on arts participation that was released earlier this month.  He also led an in-depth analysis of the Columbus, Ohio arts sector that offered recommendations to make it more sustainable.  His clients have included producing arts organizations, performing arts centers, local and state arts agencies, national service organizations, and children’s museums.

Prior to his tenure at Long Wharf Theatre, Borenstein was at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston through Theatre Communication Group's "New Generations:  Mentoring the Leaders of Tomorrow" program.  In this role, he worked on a variety of strategic planning projects, including assisting with the development of the Huntington’s Calderwood Pavilion.  Borenstein also served in various roles at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven and at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island.  While at Trinity Rep, Borenstein began a partnership between the theatre and a children's psychiatric hospital. 

Borenstein has been a guest lecturer at Yale University and at Boston University.  He also served as Board President and as Treasurer of the Summer Cabaret at Yale as well as a community grant reviewer for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. 

He earned a master of Fine arts degree in theatre management from the Yale School of Drama and a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in classical civilization from Wesleyan University. 

Pushcart Players Bring Season of MIracles to Westport Country Playhouse

“A Season of Miracles” Dec. 11, 1 and 4 pm. Photo courtesy of Westport Country Playhouse.
Westport Country Playhouse will present “A Season of Miracles,” a sparkling collection of holiday tales from different cultures set to music, on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 1 and 4 pm as part of its Family Festivities Series 
Produced by Pushcart Players, “A Season of Miracles” will include stories about Christmas (“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry and “The Nutcracker” by E. T. A. Hoffmann), Kwanzaa (“The Kwanzaa Kite,” set in Nigeria), and Chanukah (“A Chanukah Miracle,” a Chelm story). The production is appropriate for children grades K-5. Tickets are $15.
Pushcart Players is celebrating its 38th season of producing theater for young audiences - not only throughout most of the U.S., but also in the former Soviet Union, in the Czech Republic and in two guest appearances at the White House. The dynamic company is the recipient of an Emmy Award nomination for two prime time specials on WCBS-TV, and numerous awards for excellence and innovation in the development of theater for young people.
Holiday cookie decorating with Michelle Jaffee from Sweet & Simple will be a pre-show activity, beginning at noon and 3 p.m. Participation is $5 per child, payable at the event. Reservations are necessary through the Playhouse box office, 203-227-4177.
In conjunction with “A Season of Miracles,” the Playhouse is hosting a Holiday Memories Writing Challenge for area students, grades K – 8. The deadline for submissions is Friday, December 2. After interviewing a family member on a favorite holiday memory or a treasured holiday tradition, students are invited to compose a short story, theatrical scene or poem depicting their family story in 200 words or less. 
Submissions will be read by a Playhouse panel and a selection of entries will be posted in the Playhouse lobby during the presentation of“A Season of Miracles.” Every entrant will receive a prize voucher for a complimentary frozen yogurt from Pinkberry in Fairfield. For information on how to enter the writing challenge, visit www.westportplayhouse.org.
Family Festivities Board of Trustees Sponsors are Meredith & David Bukzin; Family Festivities Corporate Sponsors are First Niagara and Peirson & Smith; also funded in part, by a grant from the Peterson Foundation. Holiday special events corporate partner is Pitney Bowes.
Other “Winter at the Playhouse” events include“The Nutcracker,” a holiday ballet presented by Ballet Etudes, on Saturday and Sunday, December 3 and 4, 1 and 5 p.m.; rock band GrooveLily in“Striking 12,” a concert-musical based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” on Saturday, December 10, 4 and 7 p.m.; “Holiday” by Philip Barry, a Script in Hand reading of the beloved romantic comedy upon which the film starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn was based, Monday, December 12, 7 p.m.; and The Broadway Boys, a holiday concert Broadway style, on Saturday, December 17, 8 p.m., and Sunday, December 18, 3 p.m.
As a community service during all of the “Winter at the Playhouse” holiday events, the Playhouse will collect gently used coats/jackets to benefit the Community Closet of Bridgeport. Collection boxes will be in the Playhouse lobby through December 18.
For more information, tickets or holiday gift certificates, call the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets are available online 24/7 at www.westportplayhouse.org. Stay connected to the Playhouse on Facebook (Westport Country Playhouse), follow on Twitter (@WCPlayhouse), view Playhouse videos on YouTube (WestportPlayhouse) or get an insider’s peek on The Playhouse Blog (www.theplayhouseblog.org).

Momix Performs at Joyce Theater

Moses Pendleton’s internationally acclaimed MOMIX, the Washington, CT company that defies categorization as easily as its dancers defy gravity, will burst onto the stage of New York's Joyce Theater just in time for the holidays from Dec. 13 – 31 with a trimmed-down version of the beautiful earth-friendly-focused Botanica.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.Joyce.org or by calling JoyceCharge at 212-242-0800.  The Joyce Theater is located at 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street.
This updated version of Botanica – a fantasyland of breathtaking beauty one season at a time – features imaginative athletic dance, riveting music, inventive costumes and spellbinding choreography to create a world of surrealistic images and childlike wonder brought to life by a cast of dancer-illusionists.  It’s a brilliant exploration of nature as large scale puppets, projected imagery and larger-than-life props (designed by Michael Curry whose work is featured in The Lion King) evoke a vivid landscape.

Pendleton has edited the piece down to 90 intermission-less minutes, keeping the best of the best from the original.  Please note: all matinees during this engagement will be “family-friendly” performances (without nudity).
Pendleton co-founded the famed Pilobolus Dance Theatre, and his choreography for the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid led to his founding of MOMIX 31 years ago.  He has choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet, played the fool in Lyubimov’s production of Mussorgsky’s Kovanshina at La Scala, staged Artaud's "Tutuguri" at the Deutsche Opera in Berlin, and choreographed Stravinsky’s Pulcinella for the Ballet de Nancy, as well as Lina Wertmuller’s Carmen at the Munich State Opera and Rameau’s Platee for the US Spoleto Festival. 

His film collaborators have been Sam Peckinpah and Julian Lennon for F/X II, Prince for Batman's “Batdance", and MOMIX AssociateDirector Cynthia Quinn, with whom he choreographed “White Widow” for Robert Altman’s "The Company."
Tickets are $10 – $59 (Joyce members: $44) and are availableat 212-242-0800 or at www.Joyce.org.  Note: Ticket prices subject to change.  For more info, visit www.momix.com.  The Joyce Theater is located at 175 Eighth Ave at 19th St., NYC.

Come Home for the Holidays at Ivoryton Playhouse

Take an unexpected blizzard, add a sprinkling of the Nutcracker, a pinch of Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol," stir in a little romance and festive song, topit all off with holiday magic and you get a new family tradition called Home for the Holidays premiering at theIvoryton Playhouse Dec. 8.

Home for the Holidays is a new holiday show conceived and directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard.

“This has been such an important year for the Ivoryton Playhouse. Not only did we reach our 100th birthday but we weathered a hurricane that tore down our beautiful spruce and narrowly missed the building. I feel as though something was watching over us on that day and that was the inspiration for this story.”

This heart warming family story is filled with carols, new and old, and many faces familiar to Playhouse audiences. Cast includes Playhouse favorites Beverley Taylor, Norm Rutty, Michael McDermott, John DeNicola, Maggie McGlone Jennings, Caroline Read, Alanna Burke, Gayle LaBrec, Jason Naylor, Brandon Clark and Addison Marchese. New local talent will male their Playhouse debut: Erica LuBonta, Liz Pester,Will Schneider, Kaitlyn Vitelli, Kearney Capuano and Carson Waldron. The set for this production is designed by JoNazro and lights by Doug Harry.
Come and experience the true magic of the season with this original Connecticut Christmas story – for two weeks only.

Home for the Holidays opens on Thursday, Dec. 8 and runs through Dec. 18. Performance times are Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; evening performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for students and $15 forchildren and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting our website at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) ThePlayhouse is located at 103 Main  Street in Ivoryton.

Free Performance of Messiah at St. Joseph's Cathedral

The Cathedral Schola Cantorum at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph at Christmastime. Photo courtesy of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. 


Friday, Dec. 9, 2011 • 7:30 p.m.
Featuring: New Haven Symphony Orchestra; William Boughton, conductor; Sarah Asmar, soprano; Judith Bowers, mezzo-soprano; Joshua Kohl, tenor; Dashon Burton, bass; Cathedral Schola Cantorum
Cathedral of Saint Joseph (Farmington Avenue, Hartford)

Saturday, Dec. 24 • 11 pm
Featuring Jeffrey Douma, conductor; Soli Deo Gloria Orchestra; Sarah Asmar, soprano; Judith Bowers, mezzo-soprano; Joshua Kohl, tenor; TBA, bass; Cathedral Choir
Cathedral of Saint Joseph

Free Admission, with a free-will offering accepted at the door. For more information, visit www.cathedralofsaintjoseph.com/music-sacredsounds.

Quick (Center) Notes

  • Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas will be presented 8 pm Friday, Dec. 16 at Fairfield University’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. This all-new holiday show is the third installment in the musical comedy series inspired by the books of author/humorists Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson. 
  • “Babes In Toyland” will be performed by American Family Theater 1 and 3 pm Sunday, Dec. 18.
  • National Theatre Live in HD “Collaborators” 7 pm Thursday, Dec. (encore performance). Because of a schedule change, the 2 pm live performance originally listed will not be broadcast. All 2 pm ticket holders will have their tickets honored at the evening encore performance. Call the box office to exchange tickets .
The Fairfield University’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts is located at 1073 North Benson Road . Tickets and information are available at 203-254-4010,  toll-free at 1-877-278-7396 or at www.quickcenter.com.

Favorites Return for 14th Christmas Carol at Hartford Stage

Marley pays a visit. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas returns to Hartford Stage for its 14th season. Adapted and originally directed for the stage by MichaelWilson, and now directed by Hartford Stage resident director Maxwell Williams, Dickens’ timeless inspiring masterpiece runs from through Dec. 30.

Hartford Stage favorite Bill Raymond returnsfor his 12th turn as Scrooge for all evening and 2 pm performances and Gustave Johnson again will play Scrooge at student matinees.

A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas is the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, the heartless miser who discoversthe true meaning of the holiday season after a Christmas Eve haunting.  Featuring all of Charles Dickens’ well-knowncharacters (Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present,and Future), the story of love and redemption is both a chilling ghost story and a heartwarming holiday event for children ofall ages. 

Original cast member Noble Shropshire (Milton,NY), returns to play the Ghost of Jacob Marley and Scrooge's housekeeper Mrs. Dilber.  Since 2004, Robert Hannon Davis (West Hartford) returns in the roles of Bob Cratchit and Mr. Fezziwig.  Rebecka Jones (Hamden) returns in the roles of Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Cratchit. Michael Bakkensen (New York) returns in the role of Scrooge’s warm-hearted nephew, Fred, and Michael Preston (Hartford) makes his A Christmas Carol debut as Mr. Marvel. 

Cast members who have performed in all 14 seasons are Johanna Morrison (WestHartford) as Bettye Pidgeon and the Spirit of Christmas Past, Alan Rust (West Hartford) as Bert and the Spirit of Christmas Present, and Michelle Hendrick (Hartford) as Belle.

The cast also features more than two dozen local children Tiana N. Bailey (Bloomfield), EliBaker (South Glastonbury), AilieBednarz (Deep River), Tailanse Brantley (Springfield), Natalie Castonguay (Avon), Olivia Coe (Simsbury),Jordan Cyr (Cromwell), Jacrhys Dalton, Lorenzo Dalton, Rachel Dalton (Branford), Clareight Ellis,Seanan Ellis (West Simsbury), Yoni Haller (West Hartford), Jonathan Hammond (Farmington), Andrew Holland (West Hartford), Daniel Kemple (Hartford), Daniel Madigan (Avon), Emily May (Ivoryton), Michael Oliver (Avon), Ethan Pancoast (Rocky Hill), Maiya Pascouche (Simsbury), Thomas Ranttigan (West Hartford), Abbi Rice, Katie Rice (Avon), Ankit Roy(East Hartford), Laura Spineti(Higganum), Fred Thornley (Hartford,and Garet Weirdsma (New Hartford); as well as several “stars of tomorrow” making their Hartford Stage debut – members of the BFA Acting Program at The Hartt School.

Acting students include Ben Cole (Hartford), Alana Fallis (Hartford),Mark Ford (Hartford), Nicholas Giuliani (Hartford), Morgan Hammel (Hartford), Laura Helm (Soughborough, MA), Tom Rash (Hartford), Timothy Rizzo (Hartford), Alex Saffer (Hartford), Charles South (Hartford), Kirsten Tarczynski (Hartford), Sophia Watt (Hartford), and Salvatore Zullo (Bronx).

Hartford Stage’s presentation features settings by the Tony Award-winning scenic designer Tony Straiges, costumes by Zach Brown, lighting by Robert Wierzel and original music and sound design by John Gromada. Hope Clarke is choreographer, Ken Clark is musical director.

Tickets are $24 - $69; children 12 and under save $10. For other discounts, activities and to purchase tickets, call 860-527-5151 or visit the box office at 50 Church St., Hartford or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
Yale School of Drama presents Shakespeare's Cymbeline at the University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven Dec. 10-16. Louisa Proske directs. Seating is limited. All shows are at 8 pm:

Saturday, Dec. 10 (Opening)
Monday, Dec. 12
Tuesday, Dec. 13
Wednesday, Dec. 14
Thursday, Dec. 15
Friday, Dec. 16 
Tickets, starting at $10, are available online at www.drama.yale.edu, by phone at 203-432-1234, and in person at the Box Office (1120 Chapel St. at York Street).

Warm Up with Hot Christmas Shows at the Palace

The Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of the Palace Theater.
Warm up with a hot show this December at the Palace Theater. Tickets and gift certificates can be purchased by phone at 203-346-2000 at www.palacetheaterct.org or in person at the box office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury. Groups of 15 or more qualify for discounted rates and should call the group sales hotline at 203-346-2011.

Christmas at the Palace
Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8 pm
The Waterbury Chorale and the Waterbury Chorale Festival Orchestra present a program of secular and religious Christmas music that will delight and inspire audiences of all ages.
Tickets: $25/ $30/ $45

WaterburyArts Magnet School presents A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Thursday, Dec. 8 at  7 pm; Friday, Dec. 9 at 7 pm; Saturday, Dec. 10  at 2 and 7 pm.The timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's transformation from a bitter and disillusioned creature into the most caring and generous of men comes alive. Tickets: $12

After Work Smooth Jazz R&B
Friday, Dec. 16 at 5:30 pm
Kick-off the weekend right with smooth vibes on a Friday night! ACTJamsProductions.com presents an after-work social event featuring performances by The Ron Howard Experience, R&B vocalist Marquist, and Jazz vocalist Andrea Deyo, who will celebrate the sounds of Christmas during the event’s “Tis the Season” segment. Hors d'oeuvres and drink specials will be served.

Woodbury Ballet presents The Nutcracker
Saturday, Dec. 17 at 4 pm
Enjoy a family holiday tradition where Sugar Plums dance, Flowers waltz and Snowflakes leap across the stage weaving a splendid tale of a little girl’s dream of first love.
Tickets: $28/ $38/ $48
Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Dec, 22 at 7:30 pm
The State Ballet Theatre of Russia, from the city of Voronezh, bringsTchaikovsky's beloved ballet to  life. Tickets: $28/ $38/ $48/ $58

SHEN YUN PERFORMING ARTS                                                                         
Monday, Dec. 26 at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Dec. 29 and Friday, Dec. 30 at 7:30 pm. Inspired by the spirit of ancient China, Shen Yun Performing Arts presents a bygone culture with a gloriously colorful and exhilarating show of classical Chinese dance and music. Tickets:$50/ $70 / $90/ $120

The Palace Theater recently announced it is the recipient of a Broadway League $5,000 grant to support that after-school character developmentprogram “Find Yourself, Be Yourself, Reveal Yourself.” Based on the Blue Man Group stage show, this month long program utilizes theBlue Man Group’s social commentary and performing arts concept to enhance students’ language arts curriculum while cultivating a youth voice regarding relevant social issues.
HSO Holidays. Photo: Steven Laschever
HSO MASTERWORKS SERIES: HOLIDAY MASTERWORKSwith Richard Coffey, guest conductor; Stephanie Gilbert, soprano; Eric Barry, tenor; Eric Downs, bass-baritone; Hartford Chorale- Richard Coffey, music director; Connecticut Children’s Chorus- Stuart Younse, artistic director.

Thursday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 pm
Friday, Dec. 2 at 8 pm
Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8 pm
Sunday, Dec. 4 at 3 pm
Belding Theater │ The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
Program: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 1 from The Nutcracker, Op. 71; Ralph Vaughan Williams: Hodie; Mikhail Glinka: Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla

Ticket Information: Tickets range in price from $35.50-$70.50. Student tickets are $10. On Dec. 3 patrons age 40 and under may purchase $25 tickets. 

HSO POPS! SERIES: HOLIDAY POPS! SPECTACULARwith Carolyn Kuan, music director; Connecticut Children’s Chorus- Stuart Younse, director; The Klezman
Saturday, Dec. 10 at 3 and 8 pm 
Mortensen Hall │ The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts

Program: Holiday Favorites including Sleigh Ride; The Nutcracker, Suite; Hava Nagilah; Riu Riu Chiu, Gong Xi Gong Xi, Radetzky March, and an audience sing-along featuring  Frosty the Snowman, White Christmas, and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Ticket Information: Tickets range in price from $20-$67.50. Student tickets are $10.

For tickets or more information, call 860-244-2999 or visit www.hartfordsymphony.org.

Mark Twain House News

  • How did Hartford's own William Gillette go from the well-heeled Nook Farm neighborhood of movers and shakers to the New York stage and beyond? How and why did this fine Victorian actor go from farce to historical drama to his defining role of Sherlock Holmes? Find out Dec. 8 and 9 at 7:30 pm when the Mark Twain House & Musiem and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center present the East Haddam Stage Company's original one-act play Sherlock Holmes: From Page to Stage. Follow Gillette (whose Gillette Castle in East Haddam, is a major tourist attraction) from Hartford to San Francisco to New York and London as he plays in and writes quintessential Victorian comedies. Then hear how the stars align for his fateful meeting with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and how Gillette brought to life the super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Four actors portray 12 characters in the life of Gillette. Written and directed by Artistic Director Kandie Carle, the play features Jay Selavka of Meriden, Michael Vernon Davis of Niantic, George Lombardo of Wethersfield and Rayah Martin of Hartford. All tickets are $20. To purchase tickets, call 860-280-3130.
  • The Mark Twain House is decorated for the holidays through Jan. 2. In the spirit of the season, the admission prices for this one-of-a-kind Gilded Age holiday experience remain the same as for the rest of the year: $16 for adults and $10 for children ($14 for seniors). A Servant's Wing Tour -- in which the kitchen can be seen made ready for holiday entertaining -- may be added for the complete experience at a nominal charge of $6 ($4 for children).
  • The  31st Annual Friends of The Mark Twain House & Museum Holiday House Tour is Sunday, Dec. 4, from 11 am to 4 pm. The Mark Twain House and six other decked-out area homes are on display. Tickets $30 advance, $35 the day of the tour. They can be purchased by calling 860-280-3130.
  • Cabaret Lulu presents "A Holiday Celebration" with Lucille Gould, the original Cabaret Lulu herself, along with Robert Aberdeen from the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof, Cheryl Alexander (Dreamgirls, Once on This Island), and Glenn Turner (High Society, Five Guys Named Moe). Lunch will be served at 11 am with the show at 2 pm. Tickets are $45, and groups are welcome, with discount packages available for parties of 10 or more. For information, reservations and group discounts, call  212-308-8050 or 1-866-LULU-USA (585-8872).
  • The Fall Series of Sunday Jazz Brunches, presented by Cafe Eiko at Japanalia, concludes Dec.  11with acclaimed vocalist Kitty Kathryn. Seatings  at at 11:30 am and 1:15 pm.The $35 admission includes the performance, full brunch, soft drinks and hot beverages. Alcoholic beverages are available at an additional charge. Call 860-280-3130 for reservations.
  • Tickets still are availble for Juan Williams' Dec. 2 Clemens Lecture. Call 860-280-3130. There will be a booksigning after the lecture. 
  • Steampunk, a cultural movement devoted to the playful union of Victoriana and Science Fiction, will invade the Mark Twain House & Museum in the form of an old-fashioned tea party in the Great Hall on Saturday, Dec. 10 from 2 to 4 pm. Guests are invited to come in costume, try some tea, and hobnob with delightful members of the Steampunk community. Miss Kitty will be on hand to host the party. Music will be provided by Dr. Grymm. Admission is $10.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lyle Lovett, Miranda July, Dave Eggers to Discuss Creativity at CT Forum

Music Legend Lyle Lovett will join a celebrated panel of creators and thinkers at The Connecticut Forum for a live, unscripted conversation about creativity.

The Creative Minds Forum will take place 8 pm Friday, Nov. 18  at The Bushnell. Panelists include writer, publisher, advocate and innovator Dave Eggers; filmmaker, artist, and writer Miranda July; and journalist, Rhodes Scholar and best-selling author of "How We Decide" Jonah Lehrer

Randy Cohen, humorist, ethicist, and former New York Times columnist, will moderate this discussion, which asks “Where does creativity come from?” For ticket information visit www.ctforum.org or call 860-509-0909.

Monday, November 14, 2011

CT Arts News Updates for the Week of Nov. 14

John Malkovich (at right, photo by Nathalie Bauer) 8 pm Tuesday, Nov. 15 The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer. Malkovich stars in a sold-out drama for one actor, two opera singers and an orchestra at Fairfield University. To get on the waiting list call the Quick Center Box Office: 203-254-4010, or toll-free 1-877-278-7396. 

Also on tap: On the Spot, Fairfield University’s premiere long-form improv troupe:  7 and 9:30 pm Friday, Nov. 18 and Saturday, Nov. 19 at The PepsiCo Theatre, on the campus of Fairfield University, 1073 North Benson Road, Fairfield and Aquila Theatre Company: Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest 3 pm, Sunday, Nov. 20l  Fairfield University’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. Two intriguing authors – Rachel Basch and Pete Nelson – will be the next speakers in Fairfield University’s Inspired Writers Series, a program of Fairfield’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing. The pair will discuss their work at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the new Fairfield University Bookstore, 1499 Post Road, Fairfield. This event is free and open to the public.
  • The Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and Connecticut Lyric Opera (CLO) will present French composer Jacques Offenbach’s famous opera Les Contes D’Hoffman (Tales of Hoffman), at the Palace Theater in Waterbury Nov. 19, at 8 pm. Tickets are $65, $45, and $20, and are available online at www.palacetheaterct.org by phone at 203-346-2000 or in person at the box office, 100 East Main St. Also, ace Theater is the recipient of a $5,000 Broadway League grant to support the after-school character development program “Find Yourself, Be Yourself, Reveal Yourself.” Based on the Blue Man Group stage show, this month-long program utilizes the Blue Man Group’s social commentary and performing arts concept to enhance students’ language arts curriculum while cultivating a youth voice regarding relevant social issues. Students will participate in series workshops in which they will create various art projects, write original poetry and develop a social awareness project based on the themes of conformity vs. non-conformity, diversity and community. Students will also receive complimentary tickets to attend the theater’s May 2012 presentation of Blue Man Group and meet the performers in a question and answer session. Schools and students from the Greater Waterbury area interested in participating in this program may contact Educational Programs Manager Dawn Alger at 203-346-2002.
  • Screening of Documentary at the Bijou Theatre, Bridgeport  "Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone," One night only East Coast Tour Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 8 pm. Post Screening Q & A with the filmmaker, Chris Metzler. General Admission Ticket Price: $10. Directed by Lev Anderson and Metzler narrated by Laurence Fishburne featuring Fishbone, Flea, Ice-T, Gwen Stefani, Perry Farrell, Bob Forrest, Branford Marsalis, and George Clinton.
  • On Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 pm watch Southside Johnny and The Poor Fools embark on a stripped down journey through Southside Johnny Lyon's eclectic version of the Great American Songbook at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center. Playing the music of Dylan, Mose Allison, Muddy Waters, NRBQ, Richard Thompson, Emmylou Harris, The Band, George Jones, Tom Waits, and more, The Poor Fools will also dive into some of the legendary Asbury Jukes material--revisiting the classics and the underperformed deep track. Tickets are $50. For more information please visit www.thekate.org or call 860-510-0473.

Nook Farm Book Talks Session Examines New Book on the Mark Twain House

The Mark Twain House itself is celebrated in the Nook Farm Book Talks session on Thursday, Dec.1, as participants in this book club-style monthly event discuss a brand-new work: 'The Loveliest Home That Ever Was': The Story of the Mark Twain House in Hartford by Steve Courtney.
Courtney will be present at the session to talk about his book, a lavishly illustrated work that treats Samuel Clemens' early life and beginning career; his and his wife Livy's move to Hartford; the house's design by architect Edward Tuckerman Potter; and its construction, furnishing and decoration.

Come for refreshments at 5  pm in the Mark Twain Museum Center, 351 Farmington Ave., Hartford. The discussion begins at 5:30. Reservations are recommended: info@stowecenter.org or 860-522-9258, Ext. 317. The event is free.

The book describes the Clemens household's 17 years in the house and the major literary work Clemens did while he lived there (including "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court").

It provides glimpses of family life  -- how young Clara Clemens once screamed so loud and persistently after a pet calf had been been sold that her parents had to buy it back; how Twain had news bulletins piped up to his third-floor billiard room/study through a speaking tube; how daughter Susy wowed the family with her grasp of ancient history. 
And it relays the sad circumstances surrounding the family's abandonment of their beloved home, along with the house's amazing rescue from destruction, and rebirth as a world-class house museum.

"The Loveliest Home That Ever Was" includes a guided tour through the house's rooms and hallways, pointing out the exquisite details that decorate the entry hall, drawing room, dining room, library, conservatory, bedrooms, nursery, billiard room, butler's pantry and kitchen. Published by Dover Publications, it is illustated with numerous new color photos of the house exterior and interior by John Groo; rare archival images from the museum's collection; and a Foreword by the famed stage portrayer of Mark Twain, Hal Holbrook.

Steve Courtney, the publicist and publications editor at The Mark Twain House & Museum, is a journalist and author. His biography "Joseph Hopkins Twichell: The Life and Times of Mark Twain's Closest Friend," won the Connecticut Book Award in 2009.

Nook Farm Book Talks are a collaboration between The Mark Twain House & Museum and The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.  Nook Farm Book Talks are supported in part by the Connecticut Humanities Council. For more information, call 860-247-0998 or visit www.marktwainhouse.org.

Carousel, Mame on Tap for Goodspeed Season

Goodspeed Musical's 49th season includes the bold and brassy Mame April 20 – July 1 and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel July 13 – Sept. 23. A third fall musical to be announced will run from Oct.  5 – Dec. 9.

Mame features music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee and is based on the novel "Auntie Mame" by Patrick Dennis and the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It will be directed by Ray Roderick (Goodspeed’s Hello! My Baby, My One And Only, Singin’ in the Rain, and 42nd Street) and choreographed by Vince Pesce (associate choreographer of Broadway’s Anything Goes, The Pajama Game, Wonderful Town, and Little Shop of Horrors).

Carousel features music by Richard Rodgers and a book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It will be directed by Rob Ruggiero (Broadway’s High and Looped and Goodspeed’s Show Boat, Camelot, and 1776) and choreographed by Parker Esse (associate choreographer of Broadway’s Finian’s Rainbow and A Tale of Two Cities).

Advance season subscriptions are now on sale through the Box Office (860-873-8668). Single tickets go on public sale beginning Feb. 19, 2012.

GrooveLily’s Concert-Musical Heads Holiday Offerings at Westport

Rock band GrooveLily’s Gene Lewin and Valerie Vigoda in the concert-musical“Striking 12” at Westport Country Playhouse on Sat., Dec. 10, 4 and 7 p.m.
Photo by Joan Marcus
Westport Country Playhouse will present rock band GrooveLily in Striking 12, the critically acclaimed holiday concert-musical based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,”on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 4 and 7 pm.
With its tagline, “'Tis the season - deal with it,” the original concert-musical blends old-fashioned uplift with a modern tone of 21st century skepticism. A contemporary take on the classic “The Little Match Girl,” it tells the tale of an incandescent salesgirl whose holiday spirit can’t be matched.
Set on the last night of the old year, Striking 12 has it roots in musical theater, classical, jazz and rock. The recipient of an off-Broadway 2006 Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Musical and a Bay Area Theatre Critic's Choice Award, it is co-written by GrooveLily and Rachel Sheinkin, Tony award winner for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
"Striking 12 put the band GrooveLily on the map of the musical theater world as a rock band writing and performing shows,” said Angela Marroy Boerger, Playhouse education and community programs coordinator. “This clever and inventive pop-folk-rock-rap trio appeals to a wide range of age groups, from children to adults.”
Valerie Vigoda, electric violinist and singer, is the founding member of GrooveLily. A classically trained musician, she toured the world with Cyndi Lauper (opening for Tina Turner and Cher), Joe Jackson and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. She founded GrooveLily in 1994, with a critically acclaimed CD called "Inhabit My Heart." Vigoda is a two-time winner of the Jonathan Larson Award for Excellence in Writing for the Theatre, along with her husband and longtime collaborator Brendan Milburn, keyboards/vocals.  In 2008, Milburn and Vigoda were commissioned by Disney to write the score for “Toy Story: The Musical,” a rock musical based on the critically acclaimed Pixar film “Toy Story.”
Gene Lewin, drums/vocals, blurs the lines between jazz and rock. He tours regularly with Audra McDonald, and has appeared on CDs with George Coleman, John Patitucci, and many others.
Tickets: $40 and $20 for adults; $20 for children/students.
Other “Winter at the Playhouse” events include“The Nutcracker,” a holiday ballet presented by Ballet Etudes, on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3 and 4 at 1 and 5 pm.; “A Season of Miracles” by Pushcart Players, a sparkling collection of holiday tales from different cultures set to music, on Sunday, Dec.11 at 1 and 4 pm.;“Holiday” by Philip Barry, a Script in Hand reading of the beloved romantic comedy upon which the film starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn was based, Monday, Dec. 12 at 7 pm.; and The Broadway Boys, a holiday concert Broadway style, on Saturday, Dec. 17 at  8 pm, and Sunday, Dec, 18 at 3 pm.
As a community service during all of the “Winter at the Playhouse” holiday events, the Playhouse will collect gently used coats/jackets to benefit the Community Closet of Bridgeport. Collection boxes will be in the Playhouse lobby through December 18. In addition, the theater is hosting a Holiday Memories Writing Challenge for area students, grades K – 8. The deadline for submissions is Friday, December 2. For more information, visit www.westportplayhouse.org.
For more information, tickets or holiday gift certificates, call the box office at 203-227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets are available at www.westportplayhouse.org. Stay connected to the Playhouse on Facebook (Westport Country Playhouse), follow on Twitter (@WCPlayhouse), view Playhouse videos on YouTube (WestportPlayhouse) or get an insider’s peek on The Playhouse Blog (www.theplayhouseblog.org).

Long Wharf Theatre announces the cast of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

The film "It's a Wonderful LIfe" gets a magical adaptation Dec. 7-31 with a radio play script by Joe Landry that takes the beloved holiday story and recasts it as a 1940s radio drama performed before a live studio audience. Live sound effects meld with the moving tale of George Bailey.

An ensemble company of actors including Dan Domingues, Connecticut native Kate Maccluggage, Alex Moggridge and Ariel Woodiwiss, performs the show. The production team includes Mikiko Macadams (sets), Jessica Ford (costumes), Stephen Strawbridge (lights), and John Gromada (sound). 

“The radio play lets audiences’ imaginations breathe. It allows them to have some space from the movie and hear the story anew,” said Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein. “It’s a resurrection story, which we love. It also asks us to consider what are the enduring values one should live for? It’s a story of a man whose good deeds ultimately save his life.” 

Landry, a Westport resident, first adapted the film to be performed as a full play at a local high school. However, at the time he was working at the Fairfield Public Library, and began listening to and falling in love with old radio shows. Knowing that "It’s A Wonderful Life" had that pedigree (James Stewart did a radio show version in 1949), Landry put together his adaptation. Landry’s live radio play has enjoyed tremendous theatrical life, enjoying regular professional and local productions across the nation during the holiday season. “It’s a Wonderful Life seems to resonate on several different levels,” he said.

The original film is based on a short story entitled “The Greatest Gift” by historian Philip Van Doren Stern, a piece he distributed to 200 of his friends as a holiday greeting in 1943. When film director Frank Capra read the story, which had been knocking around Hollywood for a bit, he declared it was the tale he had been seeking to tell his whole life. The film came out in 1946, and received good reviews, although it was not a box office smash. When the film briefly fell into the public domain, it found a new audience through regular television airings. 

Dan Domingues has appeared Off-Broadway in The Cherry Orchard at Atlantic Theater Company, His Greatness at the Soho Playhouse and King Lear at La Ma Ma, among others. His television and film work includes “Gossip Girl,” “Law and Order,” “As The World Turns,” “Hope and Faith” and “Third Watch,” among others. 

For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 203-787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Theater Review: Cabaret -- Music Theatre of Connecticut

Eric Scott Kincaid. Photo by Regina Madwed/Capitol Photointeractive
By Geary Danihy
 The hottest ticket in town right now should be for Cabaret, which recently opened at the 45-seat MTC MainStage in Westport. Hot because it’s probably Cabaret as you’ve never seen it before, pared down to its bare essentials and presented with verve, style and a great deal of feeling by a superb cast.

Directed by Kevin Connors, MTC’s executive artistic director, and choreographed by Lainie Munro (who gives a nod to, but does not slavishly follow the Fosse format), this Cabaret is more intimate, and thus more pointed and, at times, heart-wrenching, than the film version you are probably most familiar with, and it features Kander and Ebb songs that were in the original production but were cut for the film or assigned to different characters.

The book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood, focuses on a young American writer, Cliff Bradshaw (Ryan Reilly) who comes to Berlin at the time of the rise of the Nazi party, seeking inspiration for his novel. He immediately connects with Ernst (Robert Daniel Sullivan), who, unbeknownst to Cliff, is making money runs for the Nazis. Ernst directs the American to a boarding house run by Fraulein Schneider (Dorothy Stanley), where he soon meets fellow borders Fraulein Kost (Marty Bongfeldt), a dancer at the Kit Kat Klub, and Herr Schultz (Stuart Zagnit), the owner of a fruit store who also happens to be Jewish. On his first night out on the town he drops by the Kit Kat Klub, hosted by the Emcee (Eric Scott Kincaid) and has a table-to-table phone conversation with another Kit Kat dancer, Sally Bowles (Melissa Carlile-Price), a waif-like British ex-pat who “absolutely adores” his spoken English.

The lives of these characters quickly intertwine as Germany’s political skies darken, and much of the musical deals with various aspects of the Nazi’s rise to power and the decisions individuals must make (or not make) when confronted with the growing terror. In this focused version, the audience’s attention is riveted on the two doomed romances that are at the heart of the show: Cliff’s love for Sally, who refuses to see what is happening around her and clings desperately to the philosophy that “Life is a cabaret,” and Herr Schultz’s more mature love for Fraulein Schneider, equally doomed because of his heritage.

Given that all of this – the Kit Kat production numbers – the arguments between Sally and Cliff – Herr Schultz’s touching courtship of Fraulein Schneider – occurs mere feet from where the audience sits means, among other things, that the audience is inexorably drawn into the milieu in which these characters live and work. It is powerful theater, especially given the quality of the cast.

Kincaid’s Emcee is lascivious and brash, but you can see beneath the façade, see the concern, the disdain for the rising powers, and the fear. His Emcee is perhaps the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen, and his final exit, executed brilliantly, is one of false bravado – the “clown” facing off against the brute. It’s a star turn, equaled by Carlile-Price’s Sally, for Carlile-Price manages to convey a brittle gayety masking both fear and self-doubt, and her take on the musical’s signature song,“Cabaret” (sung just after she has told Cliff she has aborted their child), rips your heart out, for she is spitting in the face of death, defiantly walking away from her only hope of salvation by embracing the ephemeral.  

Most revelatory, however, is the fragile romance between Stanley’s Fraulein Schneider and Zagnit’s Herr Schultz, for these characters, given song assignments and song cuts, were essentially shoved to the side in the film version. Here they come to the fore, and in scene after touching scene (including one that focuses on a pineapple), Stanley and Zagnit, with great poise, delicacy and feeling, present the musical’s essential moral conundrum – what do you do in the face of tyranny? Do you bow and accept, believing you will survive as you have before, or do you deny its very existence, claiming that, after all, it cannot be as bad as people say?

What makes this production so satisfying is that the entire cast, including Johnny Orenberg, who does yeoman work as a Kit Kat waiter, several lustful German sailors, a Nazi rabble-rouser and a German guard, can not only sing and dance, they can act up a storm. There’s not a false note or forced emotion the entire evening – Sullivan’s Ludwig is subtly menacing; Bongfeldt’s Fraulein Kost suitably louche and world-weary; Reilly’s Bradshaw engaging and earnest. Coupled with the riveting performances given by Stanley, Zagnit, Kincaid and Carlile-Price, it all make for a marvelous evening of musical theater.

Cabaret at MTC MainStage runs through Nov. 20, which means you only have two more weekends to see a version of “Cabaret” that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. For tickets or more information call 203-454-3883 or go to www.musictheatreofct.com.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Theater Review: The Woman in Black -- Ivoryton

Ian Lowe, Steve L. Barron. Photo: Anne Hudson
A Ghost Story Within a Play Within a Play Appears in the Mist
By Lauren Yarger
A playwright endeavors to tell the scariest ghost story he's ever heard, but will the real ghost let him?
A creeping mist, a mysterious veiled woman and a play within a play are conjured up at Ivoryton Playhouse in Stephen Mallatratt's play The Woman in Black, based on the novel by Susan Hill (the show has been running for 23 years in London's West End).

Kipps (Steven L. Barron) must tell the story of his experiences settling the estate of a reclusive woman who lived in a rambling estate on an island in a remote part of England, despite his lack of acting experience and the fact that he probably will put his audience to sleep with the more-than-five-hour long play he has written. So he hires an actor (Ian Lowe) to advise him on how to do it.

The happy actor indulges him and decides the best way to proceed is for his to assume the role of Kipps, while the playwright assumes the roles of all the other characters. The actor starts adapting props left backstage at the Victorian theater where they are going to present the piece (Tony Andrea, scenic design) and surprises Kipps with recorded effects (Tate R. Burmeister, design) to produce the sounds of London streets, a ride in a pony and trap and other mysterious noises Kipps encountered at the estate.

As the tale unfolds, Kipps becomes more skilled at portraying the island's odd inhabitants, all spooked by the appearance of a ghostly, gaunt looking woman clad in black who wanders the property and family graveyard. Who is she and why does a child die tragically every time she is spotted? The real script is a little redundant and slow moving at times, but stick with it and you'll be caught up in the chilling ghost story.

Directed by Maggie McGlone Jennings, the actors give skilled performances of characters portraying characters (Barron, morphing from bad actor to various village dwellers to a man who is fear personified, really is superb). Andrea and lighting designer Doug Harry create some ghostly effects and a creeping fog adds to the atmosphere. Voiceovers are by Alana Lee Burke. Costumes are by Vickie Blake.

The Woman in Black appears at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., through Nov. 20. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm;  Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling the box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.  (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.).

Quick Hit Theater Review: Ain't Misbehavin' -- Long Wharf

Kecia Lewis-Evans, Doug Eskew, Cynthia Thomas, Debra Walton and Eugene Barry-Hill. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Ain't Misbehavin'
Conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. & Murray Horwitz

Created & Originally Directed by Richard Maltby, Jr.

Original Choreography & Musical Staging by Arthur Faria

Musical Director Phillip Hall

Musical Adaptations, Orchestrations & Arrangements by Luther Henderson
Vocal & Musical Concepts by Jeffrey Gutcheon
Musical Arrangements by Jeffrey Gutcheon & William Elliott
Directed by Richard Maltby, Jr.
Staging & Choreography by Arthur Faria

The cast of Eugene Barry-Hill, Doug Eskew, Kecia Lewis-Evans, Cynthia Thomas and Debra Walton, all of whom have previously appeared in productions of Ain’t Misbehavin', sings up more than 30 Thomas "Fats" Waller tunes in a setting reminiscent of 1930s jazz clubs (John Lee Beatty, set design). Wearing sparkling flowy dresses and dapper suits (Gail Baldoni, costume design), they have the audience clapping, and sometimes singing along, with classics like "This Joint is Jumpin'," "Your Feets Too Big," Honeysuckle Rose," "Fat and Greasy" and the title song. The group is accompanied by a band behind the action on stage and a piano player on the set.

Faria's choreography is fun and just the right touch. There's everything from a waltz to tap (Barry-Hill is particularly skilled). There's a lot of humor and there is a nice variety of song styles and tempos. Pat Collins' lighting design creates shadows, lighting effects and even a shower reflections off of a jeweled disco ball to enhance the production.

Nada. A fun evening, especially if you like Fats Waller.

The show runs through Nov. 20 at Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven. Tickets range from $40-70 and can be purchased at 203-787-4282 or at www.longwharf.org.
--Lauren Yarger

Friday, November 4, 2011

Brand:NEW Play Fest Offers Chance to See What Could Be Tomorrow's Classics

Zabryna Guevara, Matthew Boston, Liza Colon-Zayás, Armando Riesco in a scene from Water By the Spoonful, the first play commissioned through the Aetna New Voices Fellowship to get a full production at Hartford Stage. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
By Lauren Yarger
Hundreds of submissions make their way to Hartford Stage's new play festival, Brand:NEW, every year where playwrights hope their work will have a chance for readings in front of audiences in a first step to becoming full productions somewhere.

The festival, now in its 14th year, is a "safe space to develop and a place for us to invest in playwrights we believe in," said the festival's line producer Hana Sharif, Hartford Stage's associate artistic director. The "we" includes the artistic director (Darko Tresnjak recently replaced Michael Wilson in the role), the staff and a number of readers who help weed through the submissions. They are looking for plays with heart, energy and dynamic characters, Sharif said.

The plays tend to be different, a little more edgy than those in the regular main stage series. It's sort of like a temporary black box setting in which to experiement a little, she said. This year's lineup includes readings of new works by Bekah Brunstetter, Marcus Gardley, Steven Levenson, Matthew Schneck and Sinan Unel (the schedule is included below).

"The five plays that we have chosen for this year's Brand:NEW festival look at history, family, and desire in exciting and unexpected ways," Tresnjak said. "It is a pleasure to bring these distinctive and provocative writers to Hartford Stage."
Hana Sharif
Many theaters are cutting back on reading series because of the economy. It's harder to take risks, but not every theater can boast of the kind of audience that Hartford Stage has developed over the years. Ticket prices usually are cheaper, but after all, what makes someone want to go see a play that isn't finished, without sets and costumes? (Readings usually involve actors standing or sitting with scripts music stands. Someone reads the stage directions and scene information.)
"There's something special about sitting in a room with actors at music stands teling you the story," Sharif said. There's a back-stage pass feel to being there, meeting and greeting with the authors and being part of the process. Audience feedback is solicited following the readings. While there are some producers attending looking for "the next hot thing," most of the audience is made up if savvy Hartford locals who have formed their own community with the annual festival. One past participant asked Sharif if Hartford Stage knew how lucky it was to have sich an educated and responsive audience.
New play development is part of the identity of this theater, though. There are a number of ways for new plays to get on stage:
  • The Aetna New Voices Fellowship awards a year-long residency, a commission and a stipend to a playwright of color. Hartford Stage provides three developmental opportunities and a chance to work with teen playwrights. This year, Quiara Alegria Hudes' Water By The Spoonful, is the first commission from the fellowship to get a full production at Hartford Stage. It runs through Nov. 13.
  • The Hartford Heritage Project looking at specific issues, events and characters from Connecticut.
  • Open submissions. Submissions from agents are accepted on a rolling basis. Hartford Stage also accepts unrepresented submissions by Connecticut authors.
This year's festival continues through this weekend. Here's the schedule:
Friday, November 4 * 7:30 p.m.
Hey Brother
By Bekah Brunstetter
Directed by Maxwell Williams

Big brother Ben is a financial planner with an alpha-male attitude. Little brother Isaac is a graduate student in history, used to finishing in second place. When a mysterious young woman hunting for her own history comes into their lives, the love/ hate relationship between them is put to the test in this darkly funny adult drama.

Saturday, Nov. 5 at  2 pm
The Ping and the Pang
By Matthew Schneck
Directed by Jenn Thompson
When a man reluctantly visits a psychiatrist for the first time, he is subjected to a bizarre and aggressive new talk therapy technique. Is his doctor helping him to face his real issues? Or merely pushing him past the brink of sanity? The human psyche, the collective unconscious, and funny-tasting kool-aid combine in this outlandish and hilarious existentialist comedy.

Saturday, November 5 * 7:30 p.m.
The House That Will Not Stand
By Marcus Gardley
Directed by Hana S. Sharif

Set in 1836, against the backdrop of Faubourg Tremé in New Orleans, Marcus Gardley weaves a poetic tale of three sisters trapped beneath the oppressive thumb of their unyielding mother in a mandated six month period of mourning. As the summer heat intensifies, passion, jealousy, and fear collide in this explosive reimagining of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba.

Sunday, November 6 * 11:00 a.m.
Playwrights' Panel

Meet the playwrights and engage with the creative process, discuss their inspiration, and learn about each individual journey to developing new work. Led by Jerry Patch, Director of Artistic Development at Manhattan Theatre Club.

Sunday, November 6 * 2:00 p.m.
Days of Rage
by Steven Levenson
Directed by Darko Tresnjak

1969. As the summer of love darkens into a long and bitter winter, a group of young activists makes plans for the Revolution from a dilapidated farmhouse in upstate New York. Jenny, a college dropout and a daughter of privilege, begins to have second thoughts about her role in the movement. As paranoia and political divisions threatening to tear the collective apart, Jenny must choose between following the dictates of her heart and a Revolution that may never come.

Pathetique by Sinan Unel, directed by Darko Tresnjak, was presented yesterday.

Key Dates and Information:
Readings will be held at Hartford Stage's Rehearsal Studio 2, 942 Main St., downtown Hartford (Residence Inn building).
Passes good for admission to all Brand:NEW events are $15. Admission to individual readings is $5; admission to the Playwrights' Panel is free. All readings offer general seating.
For reservations, directions, or more information, call the Hartford Stage box office at 860-527-5151 or visit www.brandnewplayfestival.com.

Theater Review: Water by the Spoonful -- Hartford Stage

Zabryna Guevara, Armando Riesco. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Internet Meets Live Drama in Innovative, Insightful Premiere at Hartford Stage
By Lauren Yarger
Avatars appear as the users of an internet support forum for crack addicts sign on to chat, but the action doesn't take place in cyberspace. It unfolds on stage as Hartford Stage presents the world premiere of Quiara Alegria Hudes' moving play Water by the Spoonful.

Commissioned by the theater company, Water by the Spoonful is the first play to make it from the Aetna New Voices Fellowship to a fully staged production at Hartford Stage.

The lives of family members and complete strangers merge with their connection on the support site administered by Odessa Ortiz (Liza Colon-Zayas), user name Haikumom, who encourages the members with off-the-cuff haikus and support as they try to get and stay sober. Forum regulars are Chutes&Ladders (Ray Anthony Thomas), an IRS customer service rep whose habit lost him a relationship with his son, and Orangutan (Teresa Avia Lim), teaching English while searching for her roots in Japan.

They are joined by Fountainhead (Matthew Boston), a highly paid corporate executive who is in denial about his addiction while desperately trying to hide it from his wife. Chutes&Ladders isn't impressed, but finds it hard to confront reality himself: he resists reaching out to his son, or exploring the possibility of a real-life meeting with Orangutan.

Davis McCallum directs masterfully, having the characters on stage interacting, while visually communicating as though by instant message. They don't look directly at each other, and no real keyboards or computer screen are used. Their avatars (graphic pictures with their user names) are projected onto to a tile-motifed set that also houses Odessa's near-squalor house (Neil Patel, set and projection design). Skilled lighting (Russell H. Champa), sound design (Bray Poor), some John Coltrane with original music (J. Michael Friedman), costumes by Chloe Chapin and a few props do the rest to create the innovative presentation. All of the performances are first rate as well.

Besides the interaction online, events from the real lives of the characters play out too. Odessa, fighting her own addiction, is estranged from her son, Elliot, who was raised by her sister when his biological mother was unable to care for him. He tries to cope with his feeling of abandonment, especially in the face of Mami Ginny's impending death, while being haunted by his experiences in Iraq -- literally -- by a  ghost (Demosthenes Chrysan) who keeps saying something in Arabic.

Providing some comfort is Elliot's close relationship with his cousin, Yazmin (Zabryna Guevara),  an adjunct professor of music, who also loves Ginny for providing harmony in the Philadelphia family's dissonance.
Hudes (In the Heights) combines compelling characters, humor, insights and modern technology to ask questions about how we relate to each other and to provide a window into how real face-to-face relationships differ from those online and define who we are. The playwright definitely has the "I" part of IT down: this play is Interesting, Innovative, Imaginative, Intriguing, Insightful and Internet-savvy. OK, we'll throw in a  "T" for Terrific as well. It is the second part in a trilogy that began with Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue, a Pultizer-Prize finalist, which McCallum directed in New York.

Water by the Spoonful runs through Nov. 13 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2. Tickets range from $23 to $69 and are available by calling 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage,org.

Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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